Tendrils of Rape Culture

I’ve been having many discussions lately regarding the underpinnings of rape culture and the seemingly invisible tendrils it has woven into American culture so it was on my mind when I was scrolling Facebook this afternoon while waiting for my friend’s husky to do his business.

A while ago, I read an article which cited Mohadesa Najumi’s definition from her article on The Feminist Wire:

“Rape culture … is the production and maintenance of an environment where sexual assault is so normative that people ultimately believe that rape is inevitable.”

What Najumin speaks of here is the concept that there are things in our society that are not rape but are abusive, or contributive to abuse, which we accept as cute, funny, and desirable. These things may seem harmless on their own, but placed into the larger spectrum of Rape Culture they become concerning.

Take, for example, rape-y songs and song lyrics. Robin Thicke’s 2013 song “Blurred Lines” was a summer smash hit at the time and caused quite an uproar in some circles with lyrics like “I know you want it” accompanying inexplicably plastic-clad or naked (in the “unrated” version which is still somehow available on YouTube) women. At no point in time in the song did a woman pipe up and say “yes, I do” or “I want sex” indicating she was both consenting and consenting explicitly to sex as opposed to some ubiquitous “it”.

There was a moment that summer when I found myself in a car with a number of victim advocates and “Blurred Lines” came on the radio. The driver turned up the song and I asked if he had heard the hubbub over the lyrics. He replied that he hadn’t so I summed it up for him. The carful of people nodded along with my summary before someone woefully exclaimed the largest issue with the song: “Oh, but it’s so catchy!” Herein lies the issue with this song, advertisements, and so-called “off-color” jokes: society is generally willing to overlook rape-y messaging when it’s packaged in a catchy tune, tagline, or image.

We tell ourselves that lyricists and artists don’t really mean for their lyrics or art to be rape-y. We choose to believe that the person saying things like “I’d tap that” and staring as an attractive person walks past is a nice person and, thus, would obviously obtain consent. We perceive pictures like the above as cute and innocent because we want to believe they don’t convey a nonconsensual, sexist experience. We choose ignorance because it’s easier. We choose ignorance because the world is so full of negativity that we don’t want to see it anywhere it isn’t explicit. It’s a self-protective choice and, yet, it only contributes to a world in which more violence is perpetuated.

How do we choose differently? The answer is not to always assume the worst over the best or automatically condemn anything questionable. Neither is it to loudly shout down people who engage in or create the content. I’m not even suggesting that you delete all your music and social media. I’m suggesting we stop blindly nodding our heads to catchy tunes, shaking them as we scroll passed content that walks the line of acceptability, ask the questions with curiosity, and explore the answers.

Megan Alpert